TRIBUTE TO A CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER OF ROANOKE, VIRGINIA
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On May 25th, 1963, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson gave his powerful "Second Class Citizen" speech at First Baptist Church to approximately 600 black and white protesters during a NAACP mass meeting. At the rally demonstrators and guest speakers addressed job discrimination and ending segregation towards African Americans in Roanoke, Virginia.
Rev. Dr. Raymond R. Wilkinson, known as the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson, fought for equal rights against racial injustice during segregation in Roanoke, Virginia. Born on June 18th, 1923, he was a native of Amelia County, Virginia. He was a veteran of World War 2 serving four years in the U.S. Navy. After the war ended, he attended Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. There he earned his bachelor’s degree and his Master of Divinity Degree in Theology. Years later, he would be awarded the Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Upon finishing his education, he moved to Rocky Mount, Virginia where he became pastor of First Baptist Church.
He was called to Roanoke, Virginia where he pastored at Hill Street Baptist Church for thirty-three years. As President of the Roanoke NAACP Chapter during the 1960's he became the instrument for change. Under his leadership he would challenge segregation laws by initiating integration in Roanoke, Virginia; strategically fighting to integrate white only Lunch counters, Department stores, Schools, Victory Stadium, Movie theaters, Roanoke Fire Department and Roanoke Memorial Hospital. He defended black neighborhoods as he tirelessly fought to close the dump so it could be moved out of Washington Park. He also fought against job discrimination and kept pressure on white store merchants to hire black citizens for employment and promotion. He battled against Urban Renewal to keep his newly built Hill Street Baptist Church in the Gainsboro neighborhood where the original church once stood. He served as President of the Baptist Pastors Conference of Roanoke, Salem, Vinton, and Vicinity, Virginia in 1968 and served as President of the Roanoke Valley Ministers Conference in 1978.
He continuously put his life on the line during the struggle at a dangerous time in society when black leaders were being assassinated fighting for equal rights. Even when he was being threatened or had gun shots fired at his house, he never backed down and kept fighting the good fight. He passed away on June 15th, 1993. He will always be remembered as an outspoken warrior for equal rights who sparked desegregation in Roanoke, Virginia during the height of the Civil Rights movement. The Roanoke NAACP Branch honored him by naming their annual citizen of the year award "The Rev. R.R. Wilkinson Memorial Award for Social Justice." His legacy lives on in Roanoke.